Welcome to the TechBlog, H-Digital History's blog about technology and its applications in research and teaching. The first tech topic on the agenda is podcasting. This blog post will cover the very basics of podcasting. If you find this all too simple for your needs, future installments will progress into more advanced topics.
The Basics of Podcasting
Podcasting has become quite popular as a relatively cheap and simple way to produce easily accessible content through the internet. From sports to politics to fashion, there is now a podcast (or two, or twenty) for it. A basic podcast is simply an audio recording, although usually edited with added bells and whistles such as music. Any computer with a microphone can record a podcast using bundled software such as Windows Sound Recorder in the case of PCs. For that matter, smartphones, tablets and voice recorders can also be used to record the audio required for a podcast. However, specialized equipment such as USB microphones can improve sound quality while dedicated audio programs add more control as well as the ability to easily edit and clean up recordings. Once a podcast is complete, there are several ways to store it online for download by listeners.
What's your podcast going to be about? Although it may seem like the easiest decision to make, there are some factors you might want to take into consideration. Will you have enough support and material for a long run if your podcast works out? The broader your theme, the likelier you will be facing established competition. Narrower themes may give you a niche yet also net a smaller audience. There are many podcasts on baseball for example, fewer on baseball history and even fewer on the history of Japanese baseball. Competing against established podcasts shouldn't dissuade anyone from starting a podcast on a topic they are passionate about but it does help to understand your target audience and what approaches others are taking.
Before embarking on a podcast it pays to decide what kind of format your podcast will have. Some podcasts are the equivalent of walking into a room and switching on a microphone, turning it off when everyone is done talking. Others have more regimented and focused formats. Will you focus on interviews or feature round table discussions? Will you have different segments or stick to one overall idea each show? Will your podcast be a one shot deal or be the start of a series? Will you have themed episodes or hit on a variety of topics? While there is no reason you can't change up your format, establishing an identity from the beginning can help guide your future podcast planning, establish familiarity among listeners and make your podcast easier to promote.
Some podcasts clock in at over two hours long and others keep it under half an hour. Thinking about your format, your target audience and in what circumstances they will be listening to your podcast can serve as a guide. Some listeners might be put off by a long podcast, while others may welcome it. The time constraints of your podcasting team may also be a factor. Again, while there is no reason your podcast can't have a variable runtime, consistency is helpful for your audience as it gives them an idea of what to expect as well as aiding in planning future programs. Longer shows are also more demanding on your time and a shorter format might make listeners more willing to take a chance on your podcast.
A major consideration to take into account is the team of podcasters involved. Will your podcast be a one person show, have a small consistent team or feature a revolving door of guest hosts? A one person show has the advantage of being ready to record whenever the mood strikes, be it at 2am or at a conference, yet having co-hosts can make it easier (and more fun) to keep a conversation going and offer more options as far as potential segments go. The kind of podcast you are running may also factor into the decision, as student run university podcast may persist past the original hosts so a constant influx of new voices would be advantageous. While not strictly necessary, having a person who can act solely as the engineer, monitoring the podcast and taking care of any technical issues that might come up allows the hosts to concentrate on the podcast.
You have your format, perhaps have rounded up a few collaborators and are ready to go! Two free and easy to use options for recording are Audacity for PC and GarageBand for Mac. Both are relatively straightforward to use and have good support in the way of documentation and forums online. GarageBand is also available for mobile iOS devices, handy for recording in the field. How you will record your podcast is another decision. Recording a podcast in one take is a viable option and reduces the amount of post-production work needed but can feel less polished if there are long intervals of silence or some gaffs. Editing a podcast can eliminate spots of trouble, allow for breaks and can insert segments recorded at different times, say an interview or a musical performance. In either case, saving your podcast as an MP3 at 128kbps is standard but for better quality in the case of music heavy podcasts, 192kbps and up is preferable.
Audacity - http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
Garageband - https://www.apple.com/mac/garageband/
Once your podcast is in the can you should consider writing show notes. Basic show notes are an outline of the podcast, which will let listeners find certain points in your podcast and help index your podcast for internet search egines. Often someone will refer to a book or article on a podcast or even bring up an interesting topic not on the main agenda. Having the information in the show notes will steer listeners in the right direction as many people listen to podcasts in their cars or while exercising and may not be able to write down the information immediate. Long URLs are also rather clumsy to read online. Just tell your listeners to check the show notes for more information! The show notes can also include background information that may be relevant but not something you want to get into during the podcast. Transcribing podcasts is laborious and not truly necessary less you have a luckless grad student nearby. (Just kidding! I'm a grad student, please don't take this seriously. Undergrads are much more suitable for this task.)
In the show notes you can also include a short summary of the podcast, contact information, photos, biographies of the hosts and links to other sites. Show notes can be mailed to subscribers as part of an announcement for a new episode of your podcast or live online at your podcast's home page. Here is an example of a fictitious podcast's basic show notes.
The TokyoDome Japanese Baseball Podcast Episode 17
00:00 - Introduction
01:21 - News, standings, trade rumors.
06:41 – A short history of the Fukuoka Hawks
11:44 - Interview with former Nagoya Dragons player Jack Elliot
21:52 - Review of the baseball film “Kano”
27:24 – Closing comments, speculation on the 2014 season
29:52 - Outro
TokyoDome episode 17 features an interview with former Nippon Professional Baseball player Jack Elliot, takes a look back at the history of the Fukuoka Hawks and reviews the Taiwanese baseball film Kano. Co-hosts Dan and Lita also discuss the Golden Eagles chances at repeating their championship run and how the 2014 season is shaping up.
Books and articles
Impressive Book on Japanese Baseball, by Mr. Baseball – Amazon link could go here!
Hawks: A History, by Ima Knight – Alternately, link to author or publishers page here!
The intro music for this podcast is “Strike Two” by the Generics, courtesy of a free podcast music service.
Hawks Home Page - http://www.softbankhawks.co.jp/
Getting Your Podcast Online
There are several places to find a home for your podcast. Some websites offer free hosting, others have paid hosting packages. Universities may offer hosting for affiliated podcasts. Even if you rely on free hosting, picking up a free website from Blogger or Wordpress with your blog's name can give you a space to promote the podcast, keep show notes and take comments from listeners. As there are a lot of options for finding a home for your podcast and then promoting it, this will be covered in more detail in a future installment.
Hopefully this introduction to podcasting has proven helpful as a starting point. In the next installments, TechBlog will go into topics such as the ins and outs of running an academic podcast, Skype recording, RSS feeds, using royalty free music, fair use, advanced equipment and also take a look at an intermediate podcasting setup.
Have questions, comments, suggestions, faint praise, helpful advice? Perhaps you would like to contribute to the blog? Post away!